Morgantown, W. Va. -- West Virginia's 3-3 stack defense isn't as risky of an all-out blitzing system as some may think, but there's not doubt that defensive coordinator Tony Gibson wants his defenders in attack mode. From front line one-gap schemes to blitzers coming from all angles, the Van, W. Va. native thinks in terms of keeping opposing offenses in reaction mode and worrying what his squad will do next. In WVU's opener against Georgia Southern, however, Gibson says he will have to rein in his troops somewhat.
With a great deal of study on the Eagles' pistol- and shotgun-based option attack, Gibson has determined that blitzes with Cover 0 behind them or sell-out attacks that try to overload one side of the offensive play simply aren't ideal. He's seen too many instances of GSU runners gashing through seams in quality defenses for big gains -- pickups that account for the massive 381 yards per game GSU averaged a season ago.
"You can't attack it, because if you do you leave too many vertical run seams and they bust a big play on you," Gibson explained. "You have to be very patient, and you can't get bored with what you are doing. You have to play every snap and be very sound."
Gibson's stance might cause consternation to some, who worry that WVU will be getting away from what it does best -- attacking the ball. In doing so, might West Virginia cede the initiative to the visitors? Doesn't West Virginia's perceived talent edge allow it to doing the dictating?
Those are fair points, but they are outweighed by the reality of what the Eagles will try to do -- and that WVU's normal approach might play right into their hands. GSU's offensive scheme is designed to get a fast defense chasing, overpursuing and too eager. Then comes a cutback, a cut block on the second level, and one of the myriad Eagles who touch the ball every game is out of the gate and off to the races.
"Because of what we do against our offense every day -- attack the ball and play aggressive -- then you get this [Georgia Southern] style and it works against us," a very candid Gibson explained. "I am sure they will try to use what we do against us. They'll run counter and come back the other way and try to use our speed against us. We're going to have to sit back, slow down, play your assignment. I don't understand how people prepare for them in 3-4 days. We have had them broken down since spring and still don't have a good handle on it."
To be sure, Gibson isn't letting all of his cats out of the bag. While he maintains that pressure won't be present ("We're not going to blitz") that should be viewed with an eye toward what a blitz really is in this defense. Bringing an extra rusher from the second level isn't the same as sending five or six overall, and there are still plenty of ways to play safely behind the rush to account for all of the running lanes. WVU won't have its linebackers, spurs and bandits sitting on their heels and just waiting for opposing rushers to clear the line. They'll simply have to be very cognizant of their assigned gaps and not chase the ball without discipline. They can't guess as to where the ball is going -- they simply have to trust their assignments and reads, and flow to the ball without any free-lancing.
How tough is that? A coach of no less stature than WVU's Bob Huggins points out that teams can't change their nature or their schemes from game-to-game -- mass confusion would result. That's not what Gibson is doing here, though. WVU won't go to a 5-2 monster or a wide-tackle six just to combat the run. There will be tweaks to his base system, of course, but they won't mean wholesale changes. WVU can already align itself in a four-man front by bringing down a bandit or a linebacker to the line, and can cover run gaps in several different ways. In the end, Gibson sums it up simply -- although in a statement fraught with many implications.
"It's just," he said with something that looked like resignation, "assignment football."